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Archive for March, 2009

Tulips in spring

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-03-28

We bought a bag of mixed tulips when we were up in Amsterdam at Christmas. The label said there was red, orange, yellow, blue, white and purple flowers in the packet.

There’s an alley along side a canal that has shop after shop selling all sorts of bulbs. Both they and Amsterdam residents must laugh at the silly tourists who come and allow themselves to be ripped off. We bought a packet of fritillaria that contained about 30 bulbs. Two have sprouted. And a couple of calla bulbs, which are I suspect are quietly composting themselves. Not to mention a gigantic cyclamen bulb that has about as much biological activity as an abalone shell.

So back to the multi-coloured tulips… the results were not what we expected; we were hoping for a few more colours, that’s what the label said. Oh well, uniform colours are okay too in their own way…

In looking very closely at the leaves, we discovered that one bulb was in fact slightly different: it’s leaves had a faint yellow striping along the edge. Bonus!

I remember looking for a long time at a packet of agapanthus. Now I don’t feel so bad. You didn’t get all my money, you scummy retailer!

Although we did have a bunch of hyacinths that came up, with an absolutely heavenly perfume.

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Peter Carey – His Illegal Self

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-03-25

His Illegal SelfI finished Peter Carey’s latest novel last night. In some ways it was quite a difficult read. For a long time I felt as if I was underwater, clawing my way through deep green water trying to reach the surface.

Dialogues are not always easy to follow; Carey has chosen to omit quote marks at times, so from time to time I wasn’t sure if something was being spoken, or thought. I may also have missed some obvious clues at the beginning, but it wasn’t for the longest time until I realised that the story was set at the cusp of the 60s and 70s.

Another difficulty seems to be a glaring flaw in the basic premise. Young Che (his illegal self), who is being brought up by his grandmother, is accompanied by Anna “Dial” Xenos to visit his mother who is currently in hiding. But something unexpected happens (what, we won’t find out until much later in the book) and yet rather than take Che home, which would be the most obvious course of action, she instead goes into hiding herself, dyes Che’s hair black and spirits him out of the country.

Of course, not doing that would mean there would be no story, but still, it’s rather difficult to swallow. There’s also some deceit involved in the narrative, since you don’t actually find out how tenuous this initial premise is, as the truth only comes out as a flashback much later on.

All the same, I found myself turning the pages impatiently towards the end of the book when all the pieces began to come together, and I liked the way the story ends happy but broken.

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Волчонок Среди Людей (A wolf among people) – Talgat Temenov (1988)

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-03-17

The Forum des Images has an excellent programme of children’s cinema. I took the boys there this week-end to see Волчонок Среди Людей (Volchonok sredi lyudey), which I suppose should really be translated as a whelp among people, that being the correct term for a baby wolf (I had to look it up).

It’s the story of a boy who finds and adopts a baby wolf, after a hunter in his village kills its mother. The hunter and the boy find themselves in a tug of war over the animal, each wanting for their own reasons: the boy, for a companion, the hunter, for business.

It’s an interesting narrative that can be read at a number of levels. One thing I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched the barren, dusty landscape of Kazakhstan, was whether I was looking at the future, at what climate disruption will bring. It was a disquieting thought.

All in all, a great children’s film.

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Welcome – Philippe Lioret (2009)

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-03-15

Here is a curious item in the landscape of French cinema, for the simple reason that the dialogue is in half in English, half in French. Thus half of the dialogues were subtitled for the French public, and therefore the other half will have to be subtitled for Anglo-saxon countries. (Which in turn makes me wonder what will happen in countries like Italy where subtitles are not favoured by the public and so the norm is to dub everything — but I digress).

It’s the portrait of a 17 year old Iraki refugee, Bilal, who winds up in Calais, and having got this far (4000 kilometers on foot or hitchhiking) considers it a minor detail to stow away on a truck or ferry, or steal a dinghy, and make landfall in England to be reunited with Mîna, the girl he loves.

The harsh rules of 21st century Europe and high-tech CO2 scanners brings this project to a halt and Bilal is forced to adopt a different, much riskier  approach: learn to swim, and then swim the Channel.

Firat Ayverdi and Vincent Lindon

The student shall surpass the teacher

This brings him to meet Simon, a swimming instructor, played by Vincent Lindon. This fact alone was nearly enough for me to want to skip the film, it just happened that there wasn’t much else worthwhile this week. In real life, (or rather TV talkshows, which I admit is not quite the same thing) the man comes across as being thoroughly full of himself, if not in fact a complete asshole (in an Alain Delon kind of way). So I was very impressed by his role, and he unexpectedly earnt a considerable amount of respect in my eyes for his performance.

The story doesn’t end well, and how could it? Nevertheless Lioret’s narrative avoids slipping into tear-jerking melodrama, and one comes away with the feeling of having seen a very beautiful film.

What was most surprising was to discover the film splashed over the weekend papers, with the French minister of Immigration, Eric Besson launching a vitriolic attack on the film and its director, talking of the caricatural depiction of the police and drawing ill-considered parallels between the plight of the refugees in Calais with that of the holocaust victims of the second world war…

Besson can truthfully state that very few people have wound up in prison for having given aid to refugees, nonetheless, the non-stated policy is to scare people from entertaining the idea. Which is how it came to pass that the coppers pounded on a door at some god-forsaken hour of the morning to drag a woman down to the station for questioning, where she was detained for forty eight hours (count the seconds, it’s an awfully long time) before being released without charge.

And her “crime”? She gather the mobile telephones of half a dozen refugees and charged the batteries up for them. French electricity come largely from nuclear power plants. You know, the stuff they sold us as being “too cheap to meter”. If that’s the case, then it’s not as if she was making a huge personal sacrifice.

Nevertheless, by actions such as these, the police manage to maintain a climate of fear that dissuade and dissuade the populace from entertaining the idea of aiding these people in need. Liberty, equality and brotherhood, indeed. More like a variant of the Shock Doctrine.

Lioret nails Besson in an interview, saying that it’s easy to take a phrase out of context and argue a specific point, whereas the overall evidence is incontrovertible. It’s the essence of what a politician does.

In spite of all that, Besson had the guts to admit that, all the same, c’est un beau film. And indeed it is.

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Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-03-07

The rise of disaster capitalism

The rise ofdisaster capitalism

Every once in a while a really good book comes along that connects the dots in a new way, and the result leads to a deeper understanding of human civilisation. This is one such book.

When some financial pundit argues that things would be so much better if only we paid heed to the likes of Milton Friedman, we now have the choice of being able to dismiss them as clueless, sold out or just plain dangerous.

Above all, this essay is a stunning indictment of the Chicago School of Economics, effortlessly deconstructing the toxic underpinnings of Friedman’s pet theories: state=evil, incompetent versus, private enterprise=good, efficient… and we are seeing just how wrong this is in 2009.

As the past few decades have shown, slavishly following these theories has resulted in a relentless transfer of wealth from the many to the few. And now, as the wheels fall off the global economy, the message contained in this book becomes even more important. It’s time to throw Friedman out onto the rubbish dump of history. Sorry. Nice try, but no thanks. I already gave at the office.

Among many other things I learnt from reading this, perhaps one of the most important things I take away from the book is a new point of view from which to understand Israel-Palestine relations.

In essence, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to widespread emigration, and according to the anywhere-but-here school of thought, people were happy to escape to Israel. This in turn disrupted the uneasy equilibrium between the Israeli and Palenstinian people, since the former suddenly needed the latter a whole lot less as a source of cheap labour. This gave the Israelis a strong negotiating position which in turn enabled them to lock down the territories.

I find this line of thought quite intriguing, in that I’ve never heard anyone else articulate it before now.

My only criticism of the book would be Klein’s use of the term “shock doctor” to describe the acolytes of Friedman who launch their brutal economic measures on country after country around the world. A doctor is someone who heals. These people inflict damage.

Other people have been writing about this subject for years. This just happens to be a very articulate and up-to-date essay. It’s a must read. Really. Go out and buy it, or borrow it from a library.

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